African city leaders gather in Joburg

3 December 2015

Local government was increasingly being identified as the strategic enabler of national economic and development objectives, said South African Local Government Association chairperson Thabo Manyoni, speaking on the first day of the seventh Africities Summit.

Africities 7 Summit, as it is official known, is being held in Johannesburg and runs until 3 December. It brings together hundreds of city officials from across the continent, where they are unpacking and exploring the future of urbanisation in Africa. It is an important topic given that more than half of Africa’s population is expected to live in cities by the year 2050, according to Associated Press.

Manyoni said the most obvious impact of the current global economic system was rising inequality and its socioeconomic impact. “It is said that Africa and Asia will account for 90% of urban growth over the next 35 years. They have very young populations, which represents a massive potential expansion of the labour force and middle class. This is a great advantage, if properly managed.”

Only 28% of the labour force in Africa occupied stable wage-earning jobs, he said, compared to 63% in vulnerable employment, with over 60% of urban dwellers in sub-Saharan Africa currently living in informal settlements.

“This means that potential tax bases of urban governments are relatively small, creating a serious financial imbalance to address the vast service delivery and economic infrastructure needs. This must inform a differentiated approach to tackling the development agenda in our context.”

Leaders should not forget to invest in the development of small towns and rural villages, which were often the bedrock of agricultural wealth, heritage and cultural diversity, Manyoni added.

“We have a responsibility to fashion a uniquely African response to social justice, equality in opportunity and sustainable infrastructure development and resource use.”

The summit ties in with the National Development Plan, or Vision 2030, which places emphasis on overcoming the challenges of the present to build a better South Africa and Africa.

It was opened by Minister Jeff Radebe, the minister in The Presidency responsible for planning. “What has worked yesterday, might not work today,” he said, placing the focus firmly on looking towards the future.

Development had to match population growth or the cities would face more crumbling infrastructure and social unrest, Radebe said.

Also part of the discussions over the five days will be climate change as the CoP21 takes place in Paris, as well as urban security following the recent attacks in Bamako, Garissa, Nairobi, Paris and other cities.

The central theme of the Africities 7 Summit is “Shaping the future of Africa with the people: the contribution of African local authorities to Agenda 2063 of the African Union”.

Agenda 2063 – Towards an Africa We Want encourages all people on the continent to play an active role to see the following vision come to fruition:

  • We aspire that by 2063, Africa shall be a prosperous continent, with the means and resources to drive its own development;
  • Where African people have a high standard of living, quality of life, sound health and well-being;
  • A continent full of well-educated citizens through a skills revolution underpinned by science, technology and innovation for a knowledge society;
  • Cities and other settlements are hubs of cultural and economic activities, with modernised infrastructure, and people have access to all the basic necessities of life including shelter, water, sanitation, energy, public transport and ICT; and,
  • Economies are structurally transformed to create shared growth, decent jobs and economic opportunities for all.

Taking its cue from Agenda 2063, organisers say the Africities Summit 7 theme is designed to connect a rigorous understanding of likely future trends with a strategic debate about what needs to be done at the local level, with immediate effect to address the emergency of service delivery, shelter, economic opportunities, safe and affordable mobility and more.

The summit intends to be the mouthpiece of the 15 000 African local governments. More than 5 000 local government officials are participating, representing all the stakeholders of African local life as well as their partners of the other regions of the world. The Africities 7 Exhibition is hosting between 400 and 500 exhibitors.

The Africities Summit pursues two major objectives:

  • Defining appropriate shared strategies in order to improve the living conditions of the people at local level; and,
  • Contributing to the integration, peace and unity of Africa starting from the grassroots.

The meeting has been held in various African cities every three years since it was launched in 1998 in Abidjan, the largest city of Ivory Coast.

SouthAfrica.info reporter